Thursday, October 15, 2009

Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh in on LGBT Rights

In a televised debate in Richmond on Monday night, candidates for the governor's office, Republican candidate Bob McDonnell and Democrat Creigh Deeds both went on record about LGBT rights. Executive order 1 (2006) signed by Governor Tim Caine in January 2006 and previously by Mark Warner in 2002 became a subject of the debate.

McDonnell said that if elected, he would not sign the order, which prohibits discrimination against Virginia state employees on the basis of race, religion, sex, physical disability or sexual orientation. He did  say, however that there would no discrimination in his office.

According to the Roanoke Times,
"McDonnell restated his opposition to Gov. Tim Kaine's executive order which added sexual orientation to the state government's nondiscrimination policy. McDonnell said he opposed the order on constitutional grounds, and that the General Assembly should decide such matters. Deeds said he would renew the order."
Virginia has no anti-discrimination law protecting LGBT people. That's right. In the commonwealth it is perfectly legal to fire someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Only the executive order, signed by two consecutive governors, stands between queer Virginians and homophobic employers and the scope of that protection is extremely limited.

Although it was assumed to protect all state workers, a court case testing the scope of the executive order earlier this year found just how limited it is. A lawsuit filed against the commonwealth by former Martinsville, Va. resident Michael W. Moore, who was forced to resign from his job at the Virginia Natural History Museum because he is gay,  prompted the governor's office to make this clarification:
"The governor 'feels very strongly' about non-discrimination in the state workforce, but that the executive order would be enforced within the executive branch of government as opposed to the court system. The executive order remains in place, and it will be enforced as an internal policy. If anybody is found to have been fired or discriminated against based on sexual orientation, they can be dealt with through personnel procedures of the state."

That's right, if you don't work in the statehouse, or have been appointed by the governor, you're on your own. Michael Hamar, the attorney who represented Moore, wrote about the case on Bilerico Project/Washington DC back in July. It gives a fascinating inside look at the appalling lack of movement on LGBT rights in Virginia. You can read it here.

To be honest, I'm not very impressed by either candidate in the governor's race. I find that once again we are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. McDonnell is as rabidly anti-LGBT equality and Deeds is, as usual on the fence, although he recently said his views are "evolving".

I say we help Deeds embrace evolution..

The final gubernatorial debate is scheduled for Tuesday, October 20 at 7 pm at Roanoke College in Salem. The debate will be televised and press coverage should be heavy. I am calling on every LGBT person in and around southwestern Virginia to turn out in force to demonstrate against homophobia and to demand that the governor's office support full equality for LGBT Virginians.

If you went to the march in DC last weekend, if you wanted to go but couldn't, if you believe in equality for all Americans, be there on Tuesday, October, 20th at 7 pm and stand up for yourselves. No one will do it for you.

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